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Late in the year 2000, the Internet passed the two billion mark—two billion Web pages, that is, all accessible via the World Wide Web. And with an estimated seven million new pages being created every day, it's entirely possible that as you read this, the Net may be approaching three, four, or even five billion total pages.

So how in blazes does anyone find anything? That's the million-dollar question. If you're like us, the fascination of “browsing the Web”—clicking on links to go aimlessly hither and yon—wore off years ago. We want to sign on, get the information we need, sign off, and go about our business and our lives.

Fortunately, some excellent tools are available on the Net to help you do just that. Dozens of them, in fact. They're called search engines, and, not surprisingly, the best of them consistently rank among the most popular sites on the Internet.

But the proliferation of search sites has created a new problem and a whole new set of questions. With so many search engines out there competing for our attention (one popular Internet directory currently lists 3,569), how do we find out what the really good ones are? Does it make any difference which one we choose? Will a search for, say, digital camera product reviews or Ally McBeal episode guide produce the same results whether we use AltaVista or Google or Yahoo?

How to Get the Most Out of This Book

This book will answer all of these questions and more. And like all the books in the Visual QuickStart series, it's designed to do so with a minimum of technical jargon and extraneous information. You'll find lots of step-by-step instructions and specific examples for using search engines in general, and the very best ones in particular.

In writing the book, we've made just a few basic assumptions about you:

  • You understand the fundamentals of working with a computer, such as how to use a mouse and how to choose menu commands.

  • You have access to the Internet—either through an Internet Service Provider (ISP) like AT&T WorldNet or EarthLink, or an online service like America Online (AOL) or Microsoft Network (MSN)—and you know how to sign onto the Net.

  • You have some experience using a Web browser program like Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator to visit Web sites, and now you're ready to learn how to do more than just “surf the Net.”

If you're not quite up to speed on one or more of these fronts, you may want to hold off on this book for the time being.

Instead, if you have a personal computer running Windows, check your favorite bookstore or local library for The Little PC Book by Larry Magid. If you have a Macintosh, look for The Little Mac Book or The Little iMac Book, both by Robin Williams. Published by Peachpit Press, all three of these books include chapters specifically aimed at people who are venturing onto the Internet for the very first time.

For in-depth coverage of Internet Explorer, try Steve Schwartz's Internet Explorer 5: Visual QuickStart Guide, also published by Peachpit Press and available in both Windows and Macintosh versions.

Once you're comfortable using your computer and Web browser software—and you've spent some time exploring Web sites on your own—the information presented in this book will make a lot more sense.

Companion Web Site

For book updates, links to search engine resources, and other goodies, visit the companion Web site for this book at www.peachpit.com/vqs/search.

How the Book Is Organized

The chapters in Search Engines for the World Wide Web are organized into four major parts, followed by four appendices. Here's what's covered in each one:

Part 1: Search Basics

In this part of the book we introduce you to the concept of search engines and how they work. You'll also learn about keywords—how to choose the right ones and the various methods of combining them for more effective searches. We round things out with some specific tips and techniques for using any search engine.

You should read the four chapters in this part of the book from start to finish, since each chapter builds on the information presented in the ones before. Also, you'll need this basic grounding in online searching to get the most out of the chapters on specific search engines in Parts 2, 3, and 4.

Part 2: The Big Six Search Engines

Here you'll find chapters on six of the best and most powerful search engines available today. You can read these chapters in any order. If you're somewhat familiar with one of the search engines covered here, you might start with that one and then branch out from there to learn about two or three others.

By the time you're finished reading about a particular search engine, you'll know its strengths and weaknesses and how to use the major features to create effective queries. Best of all, whenever you need a refresher, you can consult the Quick Reference guide included in each chapter.

Part 3: Other General-Purpose Search Engines

The Big Six search engines aren't the only game in town, of course. In this part of the book, we'll introduce you to four additional general-purpose search engines. You may very well be using one of these sites as your “portal” to the Internet—the place you visit first whenever you go online. But are you using the site's search features to maximum advantage? If you're not sure, read the relevant chapter in this part of the book, and refer to the Quick Reference guide for search rules and examples.

Part 4: Specialized Search Engines

Next we present some alternatives to the all-purpose “Swiss Army Knife” approach of the search engines covered in Parts 2 and 3. Just as cooks and carpenters need special tools from time to time, so too do Web searchers. This part of the book introduces you to some of the best of these special tools and helps you understand when to use them for faster, more efficient searches.

Appendix A: Search Engines Quick Reference

This is a collection of all the Quick Reference guides from throughout the book, organized alphabetically by search engine. Our thought is that when you're online and need a quick reminder of, say, the HotBot or Northern Light search rules, you may find it more convenient to turn to this appendix instead of going back to the individual search engine chapter.

Appendix B: Internet Domains and Country Codes

The information presented here will help you take advantage of power-searching techniques like zeroing in on a specific type of organization (based on the Internet domain designation in its Web address), or locating sites that originate in a particular country.

Appendix C: Usenet Newsgroup Hierarchies

This appendix explains how newsgroups are named and gives you the information you need to limit your queries to specific newsgroups, a feature offered by some search engines.

Appendix D: Web Searcher's Toolkit

In this part of the book, we'll tell you about a handful of Windows and Macintosh programs that we've found to be especially useful for getting the most out of the Internet. All of the programs are public domain or shareware, or they are offered in free demo versions, so that you can “try before you buy.” We'll explain what each of these programs is designed to do and tell you how to get them.

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